Report alleges City of Madison’s employee used city resources to build private home

Report alleges city employee used city resources to build private home
Report alleges city employee used city resources to build private home(Ellis Wiltsey)
Published: May. 26, 2023 at 12:12 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - A new report from the state’s top auditor alleges months of misbehavior by a city employee in the small city of Madison, Nebraska.

Friday, Nebraska State Auditor Mike Foley announced he has filed a formal complaint with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission against the City of Madison’s Utilities Superintendent James Lewis.

A 16-page letter to the president of the city council describes what officials believe has been going on.

The letter alleges that Lewis used city resources, equipment, and employees to help with the construction of his own home.

It also includes photos that show city employees transporting and working on the construction in June of 2022.

City employees in Madison
City employees in Madison(Ellis Wiltsey)

The letter describes that Lewis and multiple city employees were working on the home during hours they were clocked in with the city, instead of doing city business.

It also alleges that they were using the city’s equipment and vehicles to transport materials for the personal project, taking dozens of trips to stores in neighboring communities that would have been anywhere from 30 to 70 miles of travel.

When asked about the work on Lewis’s home, city employees gave conflicting statements about how much work was done and claimed similar work was done for other department employees’ homes as well.

The letter details that Lewis later admitted that he had asked employees to lie about working on his home.

It also alleges that about $560 worth of city funds were spent.

There were also receipts included in the letter that included rebates at Menard’s earned through city purchases, that were not remitted to the city but were redeemed instead by Lewis’s wife.

In total about $5,500 worth of items were purchased privately, but the letter alleges the purchases were made by city employees for Lewis while clocked in to do city work.

In December 2022, the City of Madison issued a formal memorandum about the allegations of misconduct against Lewis. According to the Memorandum, the Superintendent had been “counseled regarding the City’s expectations of you and your job duties on numerous occasions.”

The letter also notes that in mid-2021 the City Treasurer told Lewis “a citizen complaint regarding the work being performed on your residential property during the workday.”

Records show that Lewis is alleged to have responded to that information by saying “F*ck them, it’s none of their business.”

In total, Lewis was issued a disciplinary memorandum detailing 15 serious performance deficiencies including misusing city property, falsifying records, intimidating and threatening city employees, and covering up facts about the misconduct.

The City of Madison ordered Lewis to pay restitution of $390, but less than a month later repaid him the same amount for the cost of renting a forklift used for a city project.

Included in the letter is the city’s response: “The City of Madison is aware of the issues brought up in this letter and has already taken steps to ensure that these issues will not happen again. As you know, the City Council has implemented employment consequences for Mr. Lewis and others in his department, and we are continuing to review the situation, including restitution issues. The city has begun to implement new procedures to ensure appropriate use of city resources, including not renting city equipment for personal use and installing digital time clocks to ensure employee work hours are accurate. The city will also look to create an official policy in dealing with vendor rebates to make sure they are used for appropriate public purposes. The city will continue to monitor these issues and make every effort to make sure they will not happen again.”